CCOP Group newsletter – Day 1

Hi everyone – here is the newsletter that my group puts out to give you other perspectives on the activities at COP25. I didn’t write it but think it is worthwhile, especially the prayer requests. Thanks, Cara

 

Day 1 Updates
Today was the opening plenary session of COP25. There were speeches by Hoesung Lee, the Chair of the IPCC; Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General; as well as the President of Chile (via a recorded video) and the Prime Minister of Spain. We were able to watch all these opening speeches on big screens in a neighboring room (this one was a ticketed event, with advanced booking only).

Then there was a closed session with many heads of states, where Presidents and Prime Ministers from Bangladesh to Honduras to Malawi to Slovakia each gave 4-5 minute speeches to their fellow world leaders, which could also be watched on the big screens. There was complete agreement that all countries need to increase their ambition (National Determined Commitments – NDCs), urgency, and implementation to address climate change with a transformational, rather than incremental, approach.

Many of us also went to a Capacity Building workshop meant for first-time observers to the COP put on by the Climate Action Network, one of the largest civil society observer groups at COP25. The three major issues to be addressed during this COP were addressed and explained: Loss and Damage, Ambition / push for higher (NDCs), and climate finance. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Loss and Damage: While the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) process is the primary means of driving this work forward, there are still major gaps to be addressed. Most notably, there remains a critical lack of actual financial resources moving from wealthy, developed countries to those experiencing irreparable climate harms. Meanwhile, it was the less developed nations pushing the process, while major emitters like the U.S., Canada, and the EU are still unwilling to commit concrete actions.
  • Ambition / NDCs: it’s not on the official “agenda” as a particular item to discuss, but the Chilean presidency championed this by asking the parties to contribute new/higher Nationally Determined Commitments next year (these are the plans for the emissions reductions that each country pledges to achieve). As of now, only a few smaller nations, particularly the low-layering island states, have more ambitious NDCs submitted, while all major emitting nations continue to lead from behind with insufficient reduction pledges.
  • Climate finance: while the commitment and resources to make this possible are essential, transparency is another key for this topic. Beside the 100 billion USD per year that is needed from world governments to fully finance the several funds under the UNFCCC framework, the private sector must play an increasingly important part. They are not yet being recognized by major players in the negotiations.
The tension of global climate action

(-Lindsay Mouw)

Today was my first day ever at a COP. The whole experience is a bit overwhelming to take in at first—the venue is massive, bustling with activity everywhere you look. I spent much of my day observing the flow of the conference, checking out informational kiosks and touring the pavilions of various countries represented at the COP. There are a plethora of discussions, negotiations, trainings, and workshops to attend at any given time, which can make the reality of being only in one place at one time challenging. However, today I was led in the right direction and sat in on a very compelling roundtable of the Heads of State and Government Summit, where each country shared their respective national climate work and plans to increase ambition by 2020. I heard from the leaders of Norway, Uganda, Andorra, Nauru, Slovakia, Montenegro, Belgium, and the Czech Republic, among many others, on their goals towards carbon neutrality and ecological conservation. However, the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, shared a statistic that especially struck me: “75% of global emissions are shared by twelve countries, none of which are represented at this roundtable today.” I cannot help but feel incredibly guilty coming from one of those twelve countries after witnessing the testimony of numerous countries’ tremendous efforts to combat the climate crisis. The reality is that all of the countries present at the roundtable today could become 100% carbon neutral, but it will not be enough unless the biggest players in the carbon economy step up. As a person of faith, I feel deeply compelled to respond, to seek justice and show love to our Creator and brothers and sisters in these countries that are depending on the U.S. to take action.

(-Cara Fleischer): Praise God! After a press conference hosting by a U.S. Congressional delegation, the delegation came out the door I was standing at and I met Nancy Pelosi! She introduced me to FL. Rep Kathy Castor and we spoke for 30 minutes! She is the chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and invited me to meet with her and other faith leaders on December 3. What a mustard seed.
Thank you for praying 

This section will include specific opportunities for you to join our CCOP team in prayer:

  • Pray for everyone in the CCOP team in Madrid now, for their energy and wellness. The first full day with so many things to catch up and pay attention to was overwhelming even for veterans, not to mention many of us have been deprived of sleep, fighting jet lag.
  • Pray for the change of hearts of the major emitting nations as we heard from the pleas of those from the less developed nations severely impacted by the climate crisis.
  • Pray for the church back home, that we hear these pleads loud and clear.
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Seeking Hidden Treasure at COP25

Monday, December 2, 2019 Madrid, Spain

On Monday morning the music on my phone alarm pulled me out of a deep sleep in my cozy bedroom in Madrid so I checked the window to see that the rain was gone. The first day of the U.N. COP25 climate conference had finally arrived! With ten people staying together in this Air B&B flat on the Christian Observers program (7 women and 3 men), bathroom time would certainly be limited, so hustled in and out and put on my business suit in a hurry. Lowell Bliss, our leader and spiritual guide on this trip asked us to join him at 7:30 am for breakfast and a devotional, and I didn’t want to miss it.

Most of our group was already gathered with Lowell around the large dining room table under a bright florescent light as I settled into a chair with my boiled egg and coffee. With a welcoming smile Lowell thoughtfully began speaking about our first day at COP25. He shared stories from the Bible that said the kingdom of God is a treasure, it is like yeast, a pearl, a mustard seed, organic and hidden. He encouraged us to see our experience at this conference the same way. We cannot know what kind of information we will encounter within those walls that will increase our understanding, and who we meet that will enrich our experience. We might see this opportunity as a treasure hunt just waiting to be discovered, and our interactions as mustard seeds that will grow into something substantial. I found Lowell’s theology so helpful that I jotted some of his words on a napkin and made a mental note to bring my notebook the next morning.

We bundled up in our coats and stepped into the cold morning air as a group and headed up a long hill to the metro station. It was crowded with morning travelers and we had to work hard not to lose each other as we negotiated the three trains that took us to the convention site. When we arrived at the final stop, two women with a wind energy group were handing out bags of swag to everyone who walked by, and the walls were covered with slogans about climate change. We had arrived! 

Once in the hall we quickly made our way through security and took the obligatory photo in front of the COP 25 sign, and then headed to the first plenary session and opening ceremony. The word spread within our group that our passes wouldn’t allow us entry into the main hall where the world leaders were already negotiating inside, so some headed to other venues, but we were feeling brave and walked on through security. They looked at our badges and nodded us in. Excellent! The enormous convention room was filled with chairs for observers in the back that were all taken, and then lines of desks with microphones and paper signs with the names of all the countries in the world filled the rest of the hall. At the front of the room there was a tall, well-lit stage with dignitaries seated at a long table. They were so far away that I could only see their shapes, but the large tv’s around the hall projected video of a man with a heavy accent expressing his unhappiness about an agreement that he claimed was decided on yesterday but was being changed today. There weren’t any seats, so we found a spot against the wall and sat down to try to make sense of it all. After about 15 minutes the session ended, and we now understood that this hall was for the delegations to interact to set the rules through parliamentary procedure. We checked our long list of information sessions going on and headed off to the Climate Action Network (CAN) Capacity Building for Newcomers to COP seminar that sounded helpful.

I did my homework before coming to COP25 so the information we received was familiar. Speakers shared on Loss & Damage (referring to the severe impacts of climate change that hurt poor countries and who need to be compensated financially by rich polluting countries that have caused the climate crisis); Ambition (the amount of green house gases countries pledge to reduce to meet the Paris Agreement’s obligation to keep our planet’s warming below 1.5 degrees C); and Climate Finance (money that developing countries receive from wealthy ones for mitigation and adaptation projects). A major focus of this COP was to get more money for Loss & Damage because poor countries were already suffering the worst impacts of climate change and could not afford to recover from extreme droughts, floods, cyclones, and sea level rise. They need the rich countries to help them financially to avoid terrible human rights issues like starvation, mass migration, and even death of their people. It was heavy stuff and I was glad the U.N. was addressing the moral and human rights aspects of climate change.

After the seminar was over, I got a message from my Facebook friend and fellow Earthkeeper Mel Caraway of Texas that the U.S. Congressional Delegation was about to give a press conference, so I packed up and hurried over. We finally met in person and shared a big hug, and talked about what we were doing back home. He learned that only the press were allowed in the meeting so we stood outside, getting a little peek of what was happening in the room through the glass windows. A few minutes later Mel realized that we could walk around the right side of the walled off room close to the side doors to get a better view of the delegation on the stage and to hear what they were saying. I saw Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a coral suit right in the front, and she was very animated as she declared “We Are Still In!” This gave me a lot of pride because our group felt the loss of not having a positive U.S. presence here now that Trump was pulling out of the Paris Agreement and was a climate denier. I heard Speaker Pelosi say that the USA was pledging to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050, and then she said “We will be addressing this crisis with three words: science, science, and science. Well maybe four, science!” to laughter in the room. Then Florida Representative and Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chairwoman Kathy Castor spoke and said that her committee is hoping to turn policy proposals into legislation but needed bipartisan support. “There is urgency and the time for action is now,” she told the writers in the room.

I stood outside the door and listened to the entire presser, and to my surprise the delegation exited the room through that door and then Speaker Pelosi was standing right in front of me! I thanked her and introduced myself as a Creation Care leader from Florida, and she shook my hand, smiled, and said “You need to meet Kathy!” Rep. Castor was right behind her and she was welcoming as we shook hands and I explained that I lived in Tallahassee and was grateful for her work on climate change. She put her bag down and we talked for about five minutes about how she would like to do more with the faith community and perhaps we could work together on an advocacy day at the capitol next year. She said that there was a faith-leaders meeting tomorrow and that I should attend. Her assistant gave me her card and said she would let me know the details. We took a photo together and I thanked her again. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Then I remembered Lowell’s devotion that morning, how at this conference we are searching for treasure that will enhance our ability to work on the climate crisis, just like we are search for the kingdom of God. I had this feeling move through me to my toes that perhaps me meeting the most powerful women in the U.S. government wasn’t just by chance. I said a prayer of thanks as I walked away with a big smile on my face.

 

CCOP25 Newsletter – Day 1

Here is the official newsletter put out by the participants of the Christian Observer program on Day 1 of COP 25 in Madrid. I didn’t write it but thought it gave some good information and other perspectives on activities happening and progress being made at the COP. Enjoy! Cara

Before COP25 Even Begins

The best work done for a COP climate summit is invariably the work done BEFORE a climate summit.    This was a lesson hard-learned back in 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen when US President Barack Obama flew in on the last day and was immediately ushered into high level meetings with China, France, India, and several other major economies.  The Copenhagen Accord suffered from these last-minute attempts at salvage. We don’t whether the Spanish language has an idiom for “having one’s ducks (patos) in a row beforehand” but the UNFCCC works hard at preparation in the previous 11 months before a COP.

COP25 is no exception.  Costa Rica hosted a whole “Pre-COP25 Conference” in October.  Even yesterday, a Sunday when most people were flying into Madrid for today’s open sessions, the COP site was open for a special all-day meeting of the “Review of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss & Damage.”   The concept of “Loss and Damage” refers to how the nations of the world want to respond to other nations (and peoples) who suffer devastation from climate change impacts beyond any possible way of adapting.  Particularly when a nation, e.g. the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, is not greatly responsible for the carbon emissions which result in ocean warming and glacial melt and thus sea-level rise, should they be compensated for the loss of their homeland?  You can imagine how fraught such discussions are between developed and developing nations.

You will definitely hear more in this newsletter about loss and damage, since it is a featured discussion at COP25 and since it impinges directly on the topic of “environmental justice.”

Economic losses of income and physical assets is complex enough, but look at all the possible “non-economic losses” to individuals, societies, and local environments.
CCOP Team Week One is here– wet and exhausted but here!

(Lowell Bliss writes:)
Sunday was a travel day, including for the man showing me his cellphone.  “Can you tell me where this hostel is?”   His name, I came to find out, was Tony and he was with two other delegates from the African nation of Benin.  Why he thought to stop and ask me, I don’t know; I was clueless new arrival myself.  Maybe he saw my light blue lanyard around my neck, a sign that I too was here for COP25.

It rained all day yesterday in Madrid and many of us were cold and wet, and exhausted not only from jet-lag but also from schlepping our luggage up multiple flights of subway stairs between three Metro stops to bring us to the beautiful but confusing city centre.  I had already broken down and used international data on my phone to find our hostel on Google maps, so Tony and his colleagues got an easy assist from me.  The “Far Home Atocha Hostel” was a scant 40 metres away.  I love the camaraderie of a COP.  Sure, among the national negotiating teams, there may be some intransigence, hidden motives, and even double-dealing, but it’s rare among us observers. “Come visit us at the Benin pavilion,” Tony requested.  I can hardly wait.

Four of our CCOPers–Shana, Rich, Lindsay L. and Camille–fought off their fatigue enough to participate in a pre-COP25 event yesterday: “Interfaith Dialogue on Hope and Action” held at Iglesia Evangelica Española.  In this photo, the break-out groups report on their brainstorming.  Our folks reported on “How faith-based groups can promote systemic change.”
Thank you for praying 

This section will include specific opportunities for you to join our CCOP team in prayer:

  • Praise God that another COP has convened, and a spirit of hope is always palpable on Day One. 
  • Please pray as numerous heads-of-state are gathering today for the opening sessions; they set the tone for their negotiating teams and their delegations.
  • Please pray that discussions of Loss & Damage will be fruitful and be part of the “arc of the universe which bends toward justice.”
  • Please pray for some practical concerns: faulty wifi at our base camp makes communication back home to you difficult; a city-wide transit strike has been announced for tomorrow.
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Welcome to Madrid! The journey to COP25.

After two days of travel, I am happy to be sitting in a bright meeting room of the World Wildlife Foundation on the first morning of the U.N. COP25 climate conference in Madrid, Spain.

The last two days are a blur. There was packing, repacking, driving to Atlanta to get my flight, relaxing on the plane (but not really sleeping), meeting up with people on the Christian Observer program in the Madrid airport the next morning, waiting for the rest of the group, and then dragging my stuff all around Madrid for hours up and down the metro stairs. Did I mention it was cold and rainy? Why oh why didn’t I pack lighter? I learned the depth of our program leader Lowell Bliss’ kindness when he grabbed the side handle on my suitcase and helped me carry it up steepest flights in the metro.

When we arrived at the COP25 site we found a huge convention hall with heavy security at the entrance, which made sense because heads of state and high-level diplomats from all over the world were headed here. We were wet and worn but our excitement helped us muster a smile when asked for our ID cards. We got our credentials and trudged back to the metro where we would have to switch lines three times before reaching our destination, meaning even more stairs!

By the time we arrived at the Air B&B that afternoon I was soaked, exhausted, and every muscle in my body hurt from the hours of dragging that heavy suitcase, but as we entered the tall door from the cobblestone side street, we were greeted by smiling faces of all ages and my grumpiness disappeared. I was finally meeting my colleagues I’d talked to on our web training calls for the last few months. Our flat was on the third floor but there was an elevator that we stuffed full of luggage and made our way up the old wood stairs to meet it. The flat was perfect our large group with a long hall that led to multiple bedrooms, and I was fortunate to get my own small room. After a hot shower, I felt human again. Some of the group took off for an interfaith meeting, and I took a short nap to recover some of the hours of sleep I was missing.

I woke up hungry and found Lowell and Samuel from Canada in the common room, so we decided to brave the rain and head out for some dinner. We ended up at a traditional tapas restaurant right around the corner from our flat called La Taperia and I savored a simple meal of roasted potatoes, marinated shrimp, and a glass of sweet Sangria.

Back at the flat I reconnected with Lindsay from north Georgia, Camille from New York, and Shaina from Pennsylvania and we shared stories about what brought us here, what we hope to learn, how we expect to be changed. We coordinated schedules and finally went to bed because we all had a lot of sleep to catch up on.

I woke up to the smell of coffee and gratitude that I slept well and felt refreshed. We enjoyed a continental breakfast and our leader Lowell shared an inspirational message about how we can find the kingdom of God through our climate change efforts. It was a message I soaked in and felt hopeful that my work could be as small as a mustard seed, but still impactful in the face of as monumental a problem as climate change. As we headed out to the Metro as a group, I felt filled with possibility of how this week might transform us all. It was cold but the rain stopped, and I was light and free as we made our way back up the narrow cobblestone street toward COP25.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What a beautiful Thanksgiving day here in North Florida! 70’s and sunny, with the slightest breeze. I walked around the yard this morning taking it all in, feeling so happy to be alive and so thankful to live here. We have flaming red maple leaves, lots of flowers in bloom, and ripe citrus hanging from the trees all at the same time.

Our family went to Wakulla Springs for the day and took a beautiful boat ride up the river. We saw so many alligators (babies too), birds, turtles and even a few manatee. Then we had our dinner at the lodge that was delicious and no cooking or cleaning! What a beautiful day. What a beautiful life. Grateful.

I am leaving for Madrid for the United Nations COP25 climate conference on Saturday and have a lot of packing and preparing left to do. I’m glad I took this day to spend with family and nature to recharge before my big trip.

From Paris to Madrid: My Journey as a Climate Communicator

11/15/19

Soon I will be traveling to Madrid, Spain to meet with twenty-two other Creation Care leaders from around the world who were selected as Christian Observers at the United Nations annual climate conference called COP25. (In case you are new to this like I was, it stands for Council of Parties and it is the 25th year they have met.) This important meeting held December 2-14, 2019 will finalize the world’s climate action plan–The Paris Agreement–that will go into effect in 2020.

Do you know how it feels to wait for an experience that is probably going to change your life, counting down the days until it gets so close that it looms large over everything you do? Circular thoughts of hope, excitement, worry, and insecurity loop around in my head as I write plans, read books, and work to prepare my mind, spirit, and suitcase for this journey. I want to make the most out of every minute while at the climate conference to make the plane ride and time away from my family worth it. (*I will be buying carbon offsets for the flight, so more on that later.) Everyone tells me that this trip to Madrid will take my knowledge of climate justice to a whole new level, and I hope they are right.

Attending COP25 is especially meaningful to me because five years ago I was a stay at home mom who was anxious about the climate crisis and the future my kids would be facing. Their struggle with asthma opened my eyes to the damage air pollution was causing them and people around the globe, and the dangerous cumulative effect carbon emissions were having on the climate. The more I learned, the more hopeless I felt. That all changed in 2015 when I read about the Paris Agreement at COP21 where world leaders came together to draft a plan to save the planet. This exciting news inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and get involved, putting my life on a whole new trajectory.

I immediately joined the nonprofit advocacy groups Mom’s Clean Air Force and Citizens’ Climate Lobby and learned more about air pollution, climate science, lobbying, and sustainability while being empowered to use my voice to tell my story. At first, I worried I wasn’t up to the task, wondering what I could possibly contribute to the climate conversation. I wasn’t a scientist, I was just a mom. It turned out that my former career in public relations combined with my unique perspective as a mother was all I needed to be an effective climate communicator. I lobbied senators and representatives in Washington D.C. and the Florida Capitol, wrote environmental stories for newspapers, and created a following on social media. I became a full-time climate volunteer. It felt good to take action, but many days it left me exhausted and wrung out by the sheer number of minds that needed to be changed in order to achieve the political will for our leaders to act on climate.

Where my values and faith intersected, I found Creation Care. Feeling the closest to God in nature and being active at Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church, I learned that there was a ministry called Creation Care that focused on living into our biblical call of being good stewards of creation. With the support of my pastor and a core group of volunteers, we started a Creation Care ministry at our church, and after four years it is still a labor of love that brings so much joy to our congregation. Through prayer and guidance by the Holy Spirit, I feel revived and strengthened each day, and this connection makes it possible for me to continue doing climate work.

We have seen people grow personally through working together in our organic garden or t-shirt bag making ministry, and many have come back to the church. We focus on celebrating creation through lake clean ups, educational events for kids, sustainability, and advocating for environmental justice in our community. Expanding Creation Care to other churches is also important to us, so we have worked to seed new Creation Care groups through the Florida UMC Creation Care Task Force, and started the Tallahassee Green Faith Alliance to bring people of all faiths together. At COP25 I will be especially interested in the Loss & Damage committee work that will focus on environmental justice.

When a local environmental position in 2018 opened up, I ran a waste-free, zero donation campaign and was elected as a Leon Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor. I’ll be reporting back what I learn about adaptation methods for farming and protecting Florida’s coastline to the other supervisors and citizens of Leon County, Florida.

As I reflect on the last four years, I feel honored to share my voice as a climate communicator and I hope you will follow my journey to Madrid. Our group of Christian Observers will be immersing ourselves in prayer for world leaders to make decisions that will solve the climate crisis and help millions of people impacted by sea level rise, extreme weather events, and pollution. We would covet your prayers.

I will be blogging every day to share my experience during the conference, and I’d love to have you along so be sure to follow me at http://www.carafleischer.com. You can sign up for the daily newsletter and learn more about the Christian Observers program at www.ccopclimate.org.

Thank you and please stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll have more to say before I leave on November 30.

All my best,

Cara

*I mentioned that I would be buying carbon offsets for the flight to Madrid, and to be honest, the flight almost stopped me from going because I have reduced my air travel to lower my carbon footprint. After praying and thinking about it a lot, I decided it was worth going because COP25 is happening with or without me, and it is important for me to report back what happens there, to grow spiritually through Creation Care training, and to expand my climate communications skills. I will be buying Carbon Offset credits through the Sustainable Tallahassee Community Carbon Fund, and you can learn more and calculate your own footprint here: https://sustainabletallahassee.org/calcCOT.

Head out for a Fall Adventure at Leon Sinks

Fall days have finally arrived, and the cool, breezy weather is such a welcome change from the humid summer heat. With a teen and tween moving in different directions most days, my husband and I were amazed to find everyone in agreement to go on a family hike to Leon Sinks Geological Area on an especially beautiful Saturday morning. We put on our hiking boots and tennis shoes, tossed a few snacks in a backpack, filled up our water bottles, and headed out.

About thirty minutes later we arrived at the park a few miles south of Tallahassee and were greeted by a friendly campground host who explained the park fee was five dollars per car and warned us that the boardwalks and overlooks were closed due to disrepair. This discouraged us a little, but we parked and rambled out of the car, making a quick stop at the bathrooms that were luckily well-maintained, and then met up at the map of the park.

We gazed at the large map and decided to hike the north section of the trail and cut across the circle to make a 3-mile hike that went by most of the sinks. We started our hike in a long leaf pine forest and the reddish-brown needles rained down on the path making it soft to walk on as well as decorating all the plants below them with needles standing upright, like tinsel on a Christmas tree. The pines towered over us, opening our view of the forest to take in the trunks and wire grass on the ground below, with a smattering of small baby pine trees that the kids said looked like “Cousin It” with a mop of green needles on top. We saw an occasional butterfly flutter across the trail, or a grasshopper bouncing about, and the vibrant blue sky and clear sunny day made everything around us look sparkling and bright. We breathed in the clean, warm, pine infused effervescence drifting up from the path, and felt energized and alive. We bounded up the trail, following the blue markers on the trees and eventually the forest thickened, and the trail became narrow and winding with more roots jutting out of the path. We noticed new plants and mushrooms, the green, furry moss that covered rocks we passed, and that the air took on a new, lush scent. “Can you guys smell that?” I asked, taking in deep breaths and savoring them. “It smells so green!”

We stopped to read a sign that told how the geology in this area is called “karst” because under the land there is a layer of limestone that has been eroded by water over the years. That is why we have so many geological features like wet and dry sinkholes, natural bridges, and even a disappearing stream that can be seen on this hike.

Soon we came to another sign marking our first stop: Hammock Sink. We saw water sparkling through the forest and hurried closer to get a better look. The overlook did indeed have rotten boards so we held on to the trees and worked our way to a bit of a ledge that gave us a good view of the bright aqua pond opening up around us. Wow! The sink was ringed by golden trees whose fall leaves were fluttering down and landing on the surface, creating a magical feeling.

We were all taken by the quiet beauty of this place and one of the kids said it looked like something right out of a movie. I had to agree. “Check out those fish!” the other one yelled, and sure enough, down below you could see silver flashes from fish swimming around logs in the clear water. I imagined other animals coming here for a cool drink. Then I pictured the Native American tribes who once called this place home, and felt somehow connected to them all.

We reluctantly headed back to the trail, knowing it was time to get moving and that Big Dismal sink was still to come. We passed many dry sinks that just looked like hills in the woods to us, but the sign posts helped point them out. We winded through an area where palmettos covered the forest floor, and hiked down to other places where dogwoods grew. Each area seemed a little bit different.

Soon, we came upon Big Dismal sink, and were stunned at the sheer size and drop down to the water. At 130 feet deep, the cylindrical sink is the largest in the area and the dark water gave it a mysterious feeling. What is under there? We went down a steep trail to get a closer look because the extensive boardwalks were closed, and I reminded everyone to “be careful!” as I calculated the extreme drop and grew increasingly nervous that my sometimes clumsy kids were so close to the edge. “We’re fine MOM,” I was told. They were clearly loving this adventure, so I kept quiet and prayed no one tripped.

We could hear water trickling below and saw small waterfalls dribbling out of the walls that rose above the sink. We wished the boardwalks were open so we could walk around the perimeter safely to get a better look of this impressive place. Walking back up to the trail, my husband spotted a small rat snake curled up in a beam of sun, motionless. We watched it for a while and then headed back to the trail to see what came next.

We made our way from sink to sink, reading the signs and getting a first-hand geology lesson. Duckweed sink was a small puddle covered with the tiny, chartreuse water plants, creating a bright spot in the forest. Lost Stream was a brown, meandering stream that disappeared underground into the aquifer. The sites were well marked and the trail was simple to navigate, and the kids were happy and interested, evidenced by no devices coming out except to take pictures. It took us around two hours to hike the 3 mile loop because we stopped so much, taking it all in. Soon we were back on the long leaf pine trail, with white sand peeking out under the needles, and we knew we were close to the end. I felt so lucky to live here as we shared our favorite parts of the hike, and it was clear the kids really enjoyed themselves. My husband and I smiled at each other — parenting win!  There is so much to explore in our area, so grab your family and friends and hit the trails. You’ll be glad you did.

If You Go:

Leon Sinks Geologic Area
Hours: April 1-Sept. 30 8am-8pm, Oct. 1-Mar. 31 8am-6pm
Website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/apalachicola/recarea/
Cost: $5 per car
Directions: From Tallahassee, take US 319 south about 7 miles and turn right at the sign for the Leon Sinks Geological Area.

When Oceans Rise

20180827_110814As I type this, Hurricane Michael is beating up the Florida Panhandle with 155 mph winds, destroying the places I love and perhaps even my home. Yesterday, my husband and I packed up our two kids, my sister-in-law and our baby niece, and our dog and cat, and drove up to Atlanta to avoid the storm that at the very least would leave us without power, and at the worst, could leave us homeless. Stuffed into a one-bedroom condo, the stress is overwhelming as we try to act normal but are fixated on the storm back home.

Tallahassee is where I grew up and returned with my family because of our beautiful oak trees, the nearby Forgotten Coast beaches, and to be near my parents. Now our little part of the world is making national news as it gets chewed up and spit out by Hurricane Michael –the most dangerous storm to ever hit the Panhandle, and the strongest to make landfall anywhere in the U.S. in October. History is being made on October 10, 2018 for all the wrong reasons.

We alternate between watching cable news hurricane coverage of the havoc happening back home, leaving us sick and in tears, and trying to entertain the kids. We chose the Georgia Aquarium today, of all places, and we walk around in a daze trying to distract ourselves with penguins and whale sharks, but the dread hangs over us as our phones keep pinging more bad news.

We are shocked at the videos that show Mexico Beach homes under water. The predicted 9-13 feet of storm surge has swamped the tiny beach town and images from second floor balconies capture one story houses submerged up to their roofs into the Gulf of Mexico, with construction debris churning in the waves. One pundit calls it “wood soup.” It is a complete disaster, and this storm still has hours to go. Our favorite historic town of Apalachicola is on the Weather Channel as they show flooding in low lying areas. I wonder if more is on the way for them, and what is left of our beloved barrier island, St. George Island, right up the road.

These aren’t just places on the map to us. They are home. I grew up on the white sands of St. George Island, forming my love and spiritual connection with nature. As kids, Mom would make the hour plus drive every chance we got so we could swim in the clear blue waters, jump waves until our little legs ached, and dig coquinas up with our toes and watch them inch back across the sand like little jewels. Sometimes we would strap masks and snorkels over our faces and float on the St. Joe Bay, our eyes blinking wide at the nursery of baby sea creatures, from tiny sea horses to baby rays, with schools of little fish sparkling in the sun all around us. We knew we were lucky to live in the Florida Panhandle.

Fast forward to last August, when I was at Mexico Beach with around 20 women for our MOPS group (Mothers of Preschoolers) annual retreat, and I led a devotion on the beach. Under the shade of an umbrella, we held what could only be called church out on the sand that Sunday morning, as we felt God’s creation all around us. With the surf and breeze as a backdrop, we listened on my wireless speaker to the song “Oceans” by Hillsong United as we prayed, the lyrics “as oceans rise” standing out in my mind. As I took a swim in the warm water that morning, I was completely enveloped in God’s love, buoyed by my Creator, and felt a profound peace.

Seeing Hurricane Michael crush this beautiful beach town in real time has sent me into a dark place. I know that Florida is ground zero for the climate crisis with sunny day flooding already common in Miami beach and other parts of the state, and that warm waters fuel hurricanes to create super storms like Hurricane Michael. It isn’t a surprise that stronger storms will batter our beautiful state, but it still hurts to see it happen in my own backyard. We don’t know if our white frame farm house is holding up to the Category 4 hurricane winds, or if the ancient oak trees surrounding it are standing tall or have smashed to the ground. How are the countless friends who sheltered in place all over the city? More questions than answers as the bad news keeps flashing across our screens, shocking us all over again.

It is crushing to know that there are solutions to halt the climate crisis that is warming the planet and the Gulf of Mexico, but our leaders don’t seem to be interested in making the changes needed to solve the problem. As the co-leader of the Tallahassee chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I have spent years encouraging my members of Congress to take climate action, and they are starting to show signs of engaging, but not fast enough to fix the problem. We cannot just keep cleaning up the mess of super storms that cost billions of dollars, writing off the destruction and human suffering as an unfortunate act of nature. We are causing these storms to be stronger by the carbon we are pumping into the sky, and we need leaders to be brave enough to enact changes like a carbon fee and dividend and make dramatic updates in our energy system in order to halt climate change. We don’t have a moment to lose.

As I finish this article, my friend Julie tags me on a Facebook photo of a “before and after” of a restaurant we ate at during that trip in August called Toucan’s on Mexico Beach. The “before” shows it just how I remember with palm trees and a giant toucan painted on the front in green and yellow paint, and I think about my grouper sandwich and laughs we shared while looking out at the gulf. The “after” photo shows nothing left of the place. It was wiped clean off the map by 155 mile hour winds from the beachfront spot where it stood for years. I picture our friend’s home and am in tears again as I begin to grasp the magnitude of our loss.

I reach for my earbuds and play “Oceans,” that song we listened to on Mexico Beach on that perfect August morning. It has become the song I listen to when I am brought low on the fight for climate action. “I will call upon your name, and keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise, my soul will rest in your embrace, for I am yours, and you are mine.” It gives me strength to continue on, even on days like this.

Our neighbor just texted us a photo of our yard, and it is a huge relief to see our giant oaks still standing, but trees are down and power is out across the city. When we are finally able to go back to Tallahassee, we will not be broken by this storm. We will keep fighting for what we love, our way of life, and our home in the Florida Panhandle.